Remarks on the Independent Special Rapporteur’s report and recommendations
Hello, everyone. I am very pleased to be here today with ministers Mendicino and Blair.
To begin, I would like to thank former governor general David Johnston for the prompt delivery of his first report on foreign interference. He began his independent review in March to assess the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada’s electoral processes and to provide recommendations so Canada can better protect its democracy.
The mandate included recommendations on the mechanisms and processes needed so Canada can effectively combat foreign interference and so Canadians can maintain their trust in their elections and their democratic institutions. We welcome today’s report and its recommendations.
Understandably, Canadians have had many questions over the last few months and that is why we launched this process. The former governor general has reviewed thousands of pages of classified and unclassified documents. While preparing his report, Mr. Johnston was given complete access to any relevant records and documents from across government. I myself welcomed the opportunity to sit down with him, as did other ministers. He also interviewed senior officials, security experts, and many others. The work has led him to conclude that, and I quote, “The elections of 2019 and 2021 were well protected by sophisticated mechanisms, and there is no basis to lack confidence in their results.”
The report reiterates, in an independent and impartial manner, that Canada’s last two elections were free and fair, and that the results represented the will of Canadians. According to the report, there is no indication that politicians failed to act on intelligence, advice, or recommendations. However, the report indicates that foreign interference is a threat, and it includes several recommendations on processes to detect, deter, and counter interference attempts, and to better manage the flow of information within the public service.
We accept these recommendations. The former governor general has indicated that the next stage in his work will be to hold public hearings. We fully support this work, including the former governor general’s intention to create a dialogue with Canadians, especially those from diaspora communities that are often the target of interference attempts. This work is essential to drafting his final report.
In accordance with the recommendations, NSICOP and NSIRA will look at the confidential section of this report so they can review it themselves.
Letters have been sent to opposition leaders offering security clearances so that they may receive the relevant intelligence. I think everyone can agree with the former governor general’s assessment that all leaders must work from a common understanding of true facts. Mr. Johnston also recognized that more work must be done to address the shortcomings in the flow of security information from the public service to the political level.
Our government will always protect the integrity of Canada’s democracy and stand up to foreign attempts to interfere with it, and this is a duty our government has dedicated ourselves to since day one. In fact, in 2015, we ran on a promise to bring in oversight of our national security agencies by parliamentarians from all parties, something the previous government had staunchly refused to do, and we did that.
The work to counter foreign interference needs to constantly innovate and evolve, especially in a world where interference by other countries in our democracy is more frequent and increasingly sophisticated. Just look at how easy it has been for bad actors to create and disseminate misinformation and disinformation online, and that’s merely one example.
I just got back from the G7 where we talked about this at length. The illegal invasion of Ukraine and rising authoritarianism were much discussed, and countries there, including non-G7 nations like South Korea and Australia, are facing threats to their democracies. Foreign interference is not new, and it doesn’t just target our elections; it targets all aspects of society, our research institutes and universities, our businesses, and most commonly, the diverse communities that enrich our country.
Canada is not alone in this. It has happened in elections in the United States, in France, in Germany, and in the Brexit referendum, among others. At the G7, one of the things we discussed was the rapid response mechanism that Canada introduced when we hosted in 2018, so that we could all strengthen our response to diverse and evolving threats to democracy. We will never tolerate foreign interference.
Our government will always continue to protect the integrity of democracy in Canada and to defend it against foreign interference attempts. This is the duty of all political leaders, and of all parliamentarians, and of all citizens.
We must honour our democracy, actively combat disinformation and misinformation, and ensure the integrity of Canada’s democratic institutions, especially our elections.
Democracy is strong and stable in Canada. If dictators and authoritarian regimes don’t like that, well, too bad. Canada’s population has chosen democracy in each of the 44 federal elections that have been held since 1867. It is a privilege we hold dear and one that is central to who we are as Canadians.
People from around the world move to Canada with the dream of one day having citizenship, and with it the right to cast a ballot, and maybe even to step up and put their own name on a ballot. Because in Canada, we have the right to choose our own future. Every one of us has a responsibility to stand up for our democracy and undermining it for political gain is wrong and damaging.
Rigorous debate is a pillar of democracy, absolutely. So is interrogating our institutions and holding all elements of government to account. But democracy is not a game, there are lines we must not cross. We must never play into the hands of those overseas or at home who want us to lose faith in our democratic institutions. These institutions have stood strong for over a century and a half, but they require our constant attention. Democracy didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort.
And as the report says, democracy is built on trust, trust in the processes that elect people to serve, and trust in the people who hold that responsibility. To lead is to choose, and responsible leadership requires us to take action that reaffirms Canadians’ trust in our democracy. That’s how we face the scale of the challenges that lie before us.
Meeting this moment requires all of us to choose to strengthen trust. This is what Canadians deserve, this is what our government is committed to do. Once again, I want to thank the Governor General for his work.